Covid-19 - advice: Ski holidays - where and how?
Whilst political debate rages all around as to what the best course of action for the European governments to take (local lock-downs, circuit breakers or full on herd immunity) the 2020-21 ski season is rapidly approaching. Whichever side of the socio-political argument you stand one thing is for certain - us Brits still love the thought of a ski holiday. After all, following a miserable summer of social restrictions what could be finer than a week in the snow-laden mountains of the Alps? Blue skies, deep powder, fresh air, being with best friends or loved family - a ski holiday is just the tonic we all need. But just how do British skiers go skiing in a Covid-19 world?
If booking a ski holiday wasn't hard enough now there are several extra layers of complexity during these Covid-19 times: How to travel? Which ski resort to visit? Where to stay? How to protect the money spent on my holiday?
Alpine Answers has made booking ski holidays easy since 1992 - just tell us what you are trying to achieve and who is in your party and we'll do the rest. Today is no different and we still aim to make your life as easy as we always did. With Coronavirus concerns at the forefront of our clients' minds we offer our best advice below...
How to get to the Alps in a Covid-19 world
No one (not even the airlines themselves) know if their planes will be flying to and from key alpine airports such as Lyon, Geneva, Zurich and Innsbruck this winter. To date airlines have followed their own rules regards the thorny question of whether to fly or not (although obviously they want to). However, if too few passengers have booked on a plane, especially a chartered flight where the margins are already tight, then the plane won't leave the ground. Your flight will be cancelled!
UK tour operators still offering packaged holidays (with flights, transfers and accommodation bundled together) have negotiated with the airlines that their pre-booked charter flight seats are on a 'sale or return' basis for the 2020-2021 winter season. That sounds sensible - if the tour operator doesn't sell a holiday at least they are no longer committed to buying seats they don't need. The trouble is that this 'sale or return' style contract is a double edged sword. If the tour operator does not sell enough holidays (and therefore pays for enough flight seats) the airline may reserve the right to cancel the flight altogether, possibly without much notice. This would leave the tour operator with no option but to cancel all their booked holidays on that departure date and offer their clients a full refund. To cancel a flight is bad business for the airline but total disaster for the tour operator which then has to unwind all their bookings (and hard work) for no financial gain whatsoever.
Which brings us on to...
Package ski holiday financial protection
The Package Travel Regulations remain unchanged since 2018. They were then, and they still are, statutory law in the UK and rest of Europe. Of course many people would argue that the law is an ass, and in our opinion that is certainly the case when it comes to the PTRs. Although best intended to protect the consumer against isolated cases of cancelled holidays they were not designed to deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic and world-wide travel bans. The current framework of the PTRs surrounding Covid-19 related cancellations make tour operating nonviable as a business. Despite this tour operators remain bound by them for any packaged holidays that they do manage to sell.
The basics of PTR financial protection
If a tour operator sells a packaged holiday with flights, transfers and accommodation booked under one invoice and they cannot provide that holiday for any reason then under the PTRs they have to offer a suitable alternative, or give a full cash refund to the client. Reasons for not being able to provide a holiday include government advice against travel to the country where the holiday is booked.
Therefore, if you book a package holiday and the government travel restrictions still apply the day before you travel your holiday will be cancelled and you will receive a full cash refund for the holiday you cannot take. If the holiday company you booked with goes bust before they refund you (as is becoming an increasingly likely possibility) then if your holiday included a flight the ATOL scheme, backed by the Civil Aviation Authority, will refund your money instead.
Financial protection for a ski holiday that is not packaged
Why any holiday company would want to sell packaged holidays in this current Covid-19 environment is beyond us. For whilst the PTRs remain unaltered holiday companies selling packaged holidays are seriously flirting with business suicide. Understandably holiday companies are dropping their flight commitments faster than you can say "The PTRs need changing immediately" or "the law surrounding PTRs is an ass" (take your pick). As a result of this rapidly shrinking packaged holiday industry there are simply far fewer ski holidays to choose from which also include flights.
We have always supported the smaller, specialist chalet companies as we feel they generally provide a better quality holiday. Often owner managed these small businesses simply offer better 'bang for your buck'. However, as these smaller accommodation provider businesses are not selling a 'package' they do not have to adhere to the Package Travel Regulations. This means if they cannot provide the booked holiday booked as a result of reasons outside their control (ie force majeure) then no refund or compensation would be due to the client. A client's losses needs to be recovered from their travel insurance.
Given the current Covid climate of summer 2020 consumers have shied away from booking with small companies not offering a money back guarantee should the holiday not go ahead for various Covid related reasons. Therefore to compete with the financial protection offered by packaged holidays nearly all of the small, specialist chalet companies we work with have recently changed their booking conditions. These now offer guests far greater financial protection should their holidays be cancelled as a result of Covid-19. Some are even offering 100% cash back refunds, others offer 80% cash back and 20% credit to use another time, and the rest are giving almost a full cash refund but will retain a small proportion of monies paid to cover their operational/unrecoverable costs.
How to go skiing in a Covid world - our best advice
By all means book a packaged holiday with flights but remember that if the airline pulls their flight as not enough seats are sold, or the UK government travel restrictions remain in place then your holiday will simply not take place. Yes, you will get your money back (in time) but the net result is that you will have to stay in the UK, enduring another week of gloomy winter when you could/should be skiing!
Our advice is to take matters into your own hands, be the master of your own destiny and drive to the Alps. There are a lot of advantages: It is much cheaper than flying (especially with 3 or more people in the car); you can travel on your own time schedule; you don't have to worry about flight delays or cancellations; you can stop off en-route making your holiday more varied and driving on the continent makes your holiday more of an adventure!
Where to go skiing in a Covid-19 world
We know plenty of small, pretty ski villages that have more than enough excellent skiing for a week's holiday. We also know plenty of small, quiet, relatively sparsely populated ski resorts that link into huge world-beating ski domains. Our advice for a covid-19 careful ski holiday is to book into a small resort where, quite literally, there are fewer people to come into contact with.
Skiing on the mountain is safe regards Covid-19. You are likely to be much more socially distanced from strangers than you are back home, you wear a mask, goggles and gloves pretty much all the time and if you do need to get into a gondola or cable car (rather than an open chairlift) then all passengers are required to wear a mask just as if you are taking public transport in the UK. Lift companies in the Alps are taking immense care to provide a Coronavirus free service: regular, deep cleaning and limited passenger numbers per gondola/cable car are the minimum safeguards they are taking. Don't forget these resorts have already operated their lifts all summer without ill affect.
Where to stay
The most sensible option is to remain within your 'social bubble' and book either a catered chalet, or better still a, self-catered chalet, either of which you can book for exclusive use. We have always featured a superb selection of chalets for our clients and this site has a stupidly easy chalet search engine giving you access to properties from over 160 different chalet companies in the Alps. To meet growing demand from our clients we now have our largest ever selection of self-catered chalets.
The rise of the self-catering ski chalet
10 years ago the thought of a self-catering ski holiday was not necessarily appealing. Why would anyone want to squash into a tiny, ill-equipped and poorly furnished apartment to find one saucepan, a dysfunctional bathroom and uncomfortable beds? The good news is that those days are long gone. If you want to book a self-catered ski holiday today there are many, many luxury chalets to choose from.
So, our advice is to book one of these self catering chalets. Park your car in your chalet's covered garage so it's ready for the journey home (no need to dig it out from under three feet of snow) and enjoy all the chalet amenities without coming across another soul outside of your group. Splash about in the Jacuzzi, lap the pool, gently perspire in the sauna and then relax within the embrace of a comfy sofa set beside the open fire. Either eat out or eat in, as you wish, and then maybe afterwards enjoy a movie in your chalet's private cinema room.
Holiday insurance for a Covid-19 ski trip
Insurance is a financial product and as such we are neither allowed, nor qualified, to sell or recommend any particular insurance provider or product. However, we can say that you should never go on holiday without travel insurance. And when looking for suitable cover no doubt your primary questions will be:
Can I get travel insurance to cover my holiday even if the government is advising against travel?
Will travel insurance still cover me for ski/snowboard related risks (ie personal injury or 3rd party liability) if the UK government advises against travel at the time?
The answer to both these questions is "yes, you can". As far as we know MPI Brokers (Michael Pettifer Insurance) and Battleface both provide suitable cover for a ski holiday in these Covid-19 times.